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Real Sustainability

By Tori Scarzello ꞌ13

Stephen Kircher
Stephen Kircher MBA ꞌ88, president of Eastern Operations at Boyne Resorts

Sugarloaf, Sunday River, Big Sky, and Brighton – perhaps best known for the snow on their slopes, these mountains are also part of a family of outdoor recreation destinations that is blazing trails in the world of sustainable business.  At Boyne Resorts, which owns and operates these and other ski and golf resorts across the country, “sustainable” characterizes how the company has operated for generations.

Stephen Kircher MBA ꞌ88, President of Eastern Operations at Boyne Resorts, recently shared his thoughts on his company’s intrinsically sustainable approach to business.  Decades before the concept of sustainable business had become vogue in the corporate world, Boyne Resorts was producing on-site hydro power and designing high-efficiency snowmaking equipment in order to reduce energy costs.  Today, these activities are just some of the sustainable best practices that the company incorporates in its strategy to enhance customer experience and minimize its carbon footprint.

“We like to do things that are real – substantial, tangible, and create a sustainable business model while environmentally moving the ball forward,” says Kircher.  These three variables – real, substantial, tangible – are the key elements that embody sustainability at Boyne Resorts, where both nature and numbers drive decisions to undertake projects that are good for business, customers, and the environment.

While the company maintains strong environmental values, basic economics have enabled sustainability to become an integral feature of the company’s business model.  “We try to do things that are real, not window dressing,” he explains.  Instead of purchasing wind or carbon credits to offset the company’s environmental footprint, Kircher is dedicated to investing in improvements that directly and positively impact the business’s triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit.

For example, at the company’s ski areas – where demand for fresh powder is high all winter long – Kircher is focused on supplying snow in the most energy-efficient way possible.  “Developing better technology and making better snow at a lower cost both improves the business and improves the environment at the same time,” he explains.  Furthermore, the money that the company saves is reinvested into newer, more efficient technologies and other green activities that both improve customer experience and conserve resources – demonstrating how this snow strategy is also a sustainable one.

Energy efficiency on the slopes and in lodging represents a significant opportunity for sustainability in the resort industry.  Boyne Resorts is constantly raising the bar and striving to incorporate conservation into all aspects of its operations.  For Kircher, staying up to speed on the latest developments in the continually evolving landscape of sustainable business is critical to the growth and vitality of his company as well as the industry as a whole.

“The challenge is identifying real things – things that have a real benefit to the environment, the energy cost, and the customer experience,” he explains.  Each resort has its own Green Committee, a dedicated team responsible for identifying and implementing projects that will both save resources and make customers happy.  The decision to go paperless in all cafeterias, for example, was a result of the Green Committees’ efforts.  This measure is a prime example of the triple benefits of sustainability: not only has it helped the company reduce waste and save money, but customers also appreciate that their chili stays warmer in a china bowl than in a disposable container!

In addition to the sustainability improvements that the teams have achieved at the resort level, the Green Committee model has naturally created a peer network for sharing ideas and strategies across the entire company, enabling Kircher and others in the company to recognize opportunities for sustainability projects at the macro level as well as the micro level.

Sustainability at Boyne Resorts goes beyond efficiency improvements and recycling programs.  While Kircher emphasizes the tangible nature of sustainability at his company, he also points out that maintaining geographic diversity among resort locations is a strategy that has helped the company as a whole remain robust through the changing seasons and weather.  In the outdoor resort industry, where the environment is a primary asset, the ability to economically endure through all kinds of weather patterns is key to maintaining stable business, as well as mitigating environmental impact.

When asked about the inspiration and driving force behind sustainability at Boyne Resorts, Kircher references the early 20th century conservation movement led by President Theodore Roosevelt.  “Teddy Roosevelt was the first to really embrace the idea of national parks, of putting aside our national resources for future generations and protecting them in a real way,” explains Kircher.  “That conservation movement was not a liberal idea – it was a logical and long-term, forward-thinking way of approaching things.”

The pragmatism of Roosevelt’s conservation movement is reflected in Boyne Resorts’ efforts to preserve, cultivate, and nurture the natural environment while creating an exceptional experience for its customers.  “It’s important in our planning to do it well – it’s a balance,” Kircher notes. “We want to keep what people treasure about coming to the great outdoors, and enhance that as best we can.”

While recognizing that running a ski or golf resort is not without some environmental impact, Kircher posits that careful and logical impacts on the environment can be a net gain to humanity.  “With more people living in cities than ever before, and having less contact with the natural world than ever before, our industry provides a portal to experience the natural world, like the national parks do,” he points out.  “Any time you’ve got recreational facilities in the natural world, I think it keeps people connected to that part of Mother Earth that they wouldn’t otherwise be thinking about.”

A sustainable business is like a sustainable biological system: it is able to endure and remain diverse and productive.  Under Kircher’s leadership and enthusiasm for innovations that impact kilowatt hours, carbon footprint, and customer experience, Boyne Resorts is clearly on the forefront of sustainability in the ski and golf resort industry.  With the ambition of surviving and prospering long into the future, the company demonstrates a real commitment to enabling outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy the best of nature with minimal impact for years to come.

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